Clout has resulted in some strange behavior by City and State officials over the years, and here we go again in the case of the proposed One Central development in the South Loop.
South Loop neighbors do not want it—in fact, they are staunchly opposed to it. Bob Dunn and Landmark Development of Wisconsin proposes huge skyscrapers that will dominate the skyline—so tall that they actually may block the sun in the area—and a transit hub that is not needed and nobody particularly wants. It would result in 20 years of construction, resulting in constant noise, dust, pollution, and traffic disruption for two decades. And when it is finally done? Good luck getting a car through the South Loop or enjoying a leisurely and safe bicycle ride—the mass density and added vehicular traffic is going to decimate the community.
And oh, by the way, Landmark Development wants $6.5 billion—that’s billion with a “B”—from the State of Illinois. You will recall that just two weeks ago, Governor Pritzker came out with his austerity budget with plenty of cuts. The State does not exactly have $6.5 billion lying around.
Landmark first came up with the plan in 2019, and neighbors have been fighting against it ever since. Yet in the wee hours of the 2019 legislative session, the State approved a plan for Illinois to provide that $6.5 billion for that unneeded transit hub once it is built. The “end around” bill was put together by legislative leaders and Governor JB Pritzker’s office, leaving bewildered local State reps and senators out of the process, for good measure. That takes political heavy blocking—exactly who did it still remains a mystery. See Gazette Chicago’s May 2019, August 2019, and June 2020 issues for news coverage and August 2019 for editorial. So, Dunn needs a mere $6.5 billion? Anything is possible in clout heavy Chicago and Illinois.
It also takes clout to go up against the will of South Loop residents—people who are generally well-to-do, educated, and savvy about getting what they want for their community. Usually, clout takes on poorer residents in downtrodden neighborhoods who do not have the resources to fight. In this case, Landmark Development felt so confident that its management barely made any changes to the original plans after two years of community opposition, going so far as to try to say the height of parts of the development are similar to existing South Loop structures. The South Loop Concerned Coalition strenuously disputes this.
It also takes clout to make sure the SLCC did not receive revised plans from the developer or the City until the day before the January meeting about them, even though the City had had them since Nov. 30 and the SLCC had filed several Freedom of Information Act requests for the plans—which the City denied.
We would venture to say that clout also may be involved in the fact that 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, normally accessible to the media, kept mum on this article when our reporter tried to contact her. So, what gives here? Has the City or State already cut a deal with Dunn?
For a better way of doing things, we can look a few blocks west, where Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez of the 25th Ward was a key player in passing an anti-deconversion, anti-displacement ordinance for Pilsen—legislation that will allow Pilsen residents to keep the character of their community the way they want it.
Furthermore, Sigcho-Lopez has established the 25th Ward Zoning Board, in which community representatives, not developers and politicians, make the decisions on which developments will be allowed in the ward, and which will not.
If Dowell gave her 3rd Ward constituents this much representation and power, One Central would have been dead on arrival two years ago, instead of rearing its ugly head once again.
Ald. Sigcho-Lopez is showing the way that community input should count in governmental consideration of development proposals. This is what leadership among elected officials should look like today.
We do not know where Mayor Lori Lightfoot stands on this proposal. We know Governor Pritzker ok’d it in 2019, but we do not know if he still favors it.
We do know that One Central is a bad idea, and that Lightfoot, Pritzker, Dowell, and other public officials should stand with the SLCC and oppose it. With the gubernatorial election coming up next year and mayoral and aldermanic elections scheduled for the year after, they would be wise to give the clout of the voters more weight than that of one developer—especially one such as Landmark Development which has shown extreme disregard for this community. What are they hiding? Why hasn’t Dunn or someone from his team replied to our inquiries?
Communities have been suffering enough lately what with a hundred-year pandemic taking lives and ravaging our economy and way of life. People are fed up. Elected officials take heed. Gazette Chicago has been the paper of record in the South Loop since 1991. SLCC will keep fighting this bad idea, and so will we.